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Sustainable School Gardening

By Dawn Fradkin, Horticulture Programs Coordinator and Assistant Horticulturist

Planting days at Jewell Elementary, Photos: Dawn Fradkin and Kim Melnychenko

School gardens have exploded in popularity in the past few years and for good reason. Learning about gardening and how to grow your own food is a life skill. Many people would agree that nurturing plants and growing a garden is important experiential learning for children. One of the big challenges with school food gardens is organizing regular summertime maintenance, including watering and weeding, when students are on break.

Jewell Elementary in Aurora has found a great way to overcome this obstacle for a successful school garden. In May of 2023, they set out to create a pollinator garden with aid from the Arapahoe County Master Gardener Program. Kim Melnychenko, a CLDE Teacher Leader, had the vision and the drive to get her project funded and master gardener volunteers stepped in to make her vision happen.

Kim’s goal was to transform a neglected area of hillside into a pollinator garden for the school. Under her plan, the fifth grade classes helped with bed preparation, while the first grade classes planted the garden. She also created an after-school garden club to support the garden. Master gardeners created programming and taught the first graders the basics about plants and plant care, pollinators, Colorado climate and habitat, and they learned about the plant characteristics that are good for pollinators. Kim secured plant donations and various funding for the materials, including small grants.

The garden was planted at the end of May 2023. In the fall when the kids arrived back at school, they were excited and proud of this successful garden which was already thriving and buzzing with pollinators. The new after-school garden club started in the fall 2023 and is still going strong with 20-22 kids taking part each week. Master gardener volunteers have helped with the after-school garden club to teach students the differences between weeds and the good plants, how to deadhead and prune, and how to record careful observations in their notebooks about the garden, including any new and interesting pollinators they see. The students have also learned how to gather seeds and winter sow their seeds in milk jugs. A new first grade class will get to plant their own portion of the garden this May with the help of their fifth grade garden mentors. Next fall, these first graders can participate in the year-round garden club starting in the second grade. Kim has created a sustainable school garden program. The Arapahoe County Master Gardener volunteers are thrilled to participate with the Jewell Elementary School staff and students!

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